“All right,” Becca said, rocking Carla in her arms as Carla screamed. “Here’s the deal.” She had been in their apartment for no more than five minutes. “You two need a hotel room, and you need to sleep for twenty-four straight hours. No hanky panky, which I know would be a painful proposition anyway.”
Becca’s black leather jacket matched her black hair, and it hung on her shoulders like folded wings. Becca looked at Ariel. “You have a breast pump, right? Have you pumped anything?”
“There are about five or six bags in the freezer. Maybe twenty-five ounces.”
“Excellent. Pump everything you have left to pump, and I’ll buy some formula to supplement it.”
“Becca, formula isn’t so—.”
“Ariel, if it comes to it, she—Carla, beautiful, precious, screaming-her-head-off Carla—will be fine drinking formula for the next twenty-four hours. She would be fine if she had only water for twenty-four hours.”
“Ariel, you’re ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ come to life. You’re crazy, understand? You left twenty-seven messages on my cell phone. And believe me, I would have answered every one if I hadn’t been in Japan and my cell phone had worked.”
“Right,” Ariel said, letting herself go, letting herself be taken care of. “All right.” Tears shot down her cheeks. “They didn’t tell me,” she said. “I thought I would be a better mother.” She turned to Summit. “I’m sorry.” He, too, was crying.
Becca looked at Summit. “You don’t teach tomorrow, I hope.”
“Classes don’t start until next week.”
“Do you think you could find a cab to drive the two of you to a hotel—a hotel with room service? First you need to sleep. Twenty-four hours of sleeping. Followed by a good meal. Got it?”
“Afterwards,” Becca said, “we’ll re-evaluate.”
Summit nodded again.
As Ariel and Summit stood by their apartment door to leave, Becca said, “Where the hell are your other friends?”
“What other friends?” Ariel said.
Ariel didn’t know what hotel they were in. She doubted whether Summit, who had paid with his credit card, knew either. If their behavior—checking into a hotel room with Ariel carrying nothing but a backpack and Summit holding only a single toothbrush and a tube of Crest—suggested a pair of adulterous lovers with an understandable aversion to halitosis, their demeanors suggested refugees from a natural disaster.
Ariel may have noticed the moment her head met the pillow. But unlike her normal bedtime routine, in which she contorted her body into various positions before securing the most comfortable, she fell immediately into a sleep so deep she couldn’t have forestalled it to save her life.
Eleven hours later, she stumbled to the bathroom, breasts engorged. She’d brought her breast pump, but the steps necessary to remove it from her backpack and plug it in seemed both complicated and exhausting. Upon her return, Summit woke to mumble, “Should we order food?” He was asleep before Ariel said, “No.”
Seventeen hours after their arrival, they did order food and, on a hopeful impulse, two glasses of what, for all their taste buds could discern, might have been mediocre cabernet sauvignon or might have been nectar from the gods’ private collection. As Ariel pumped breast milk, she said she was sorry about what she had said to Summit, whatever it might have been. Summit said he was sorry if he deserved even a small part of what she had said to him.
They celebrated this rapprochement by sleeping for another three hours.
It was night by the time Ariel and Summit returned to their apartment, having twice extended their checkout time. Only as they were ascending the elevator to the sixth floor did Ariel begin to worry. Had Carla’s screaming driven Becca crazy? Had Becca hurled Carla, or herself, out of a window?
Would Becca ever want to visit again?
As Ariel and Summit stepped up to their door, they heard the sound of a guitar being strummed. They didn’t hear Carla.
“It’s eight o’clock,” Ariel whispered. “It’s prime colic time.”
“I know,” Summit said.
“Do you think she gave Carla drugs?”
Summit glanced at her, concerned, but her paranoia had been retired, and he sensed this and smiled. “If she did,” he said, “I’m all in favor.”
They opened the door. Becca was sitting cross-legged on the floor, a guitar in her lap. Carla was in her bouncy seat in front of her. Becca stopped playing and looked up at them.
“She’s a remarkably mellow audience,” she said, “although she’s ten times as enthusiastic as the six people I played for at Dance Time USA.”
“Dance Time USA?” Summit asked.
“Some god-awful club in Tokyo,” Becca said. “Two songs in, I was hoping for an earthquake or at least a power failure.”
“So the Japanese didn’t love you?” Ariel asked.
Becca shrugged. “It was a mixed response. The people in Kyoto wouldn’t let me off the stage. I did three encores, including an a-cappella version of ‘And Bingo Was His Name-O’.”
“What other kind of version is there?” Summit asked.
“I think Aerosmith did a heavy metal cover back in the ‘70s.”
“We want to hear all about your tour,” Ariel said. “But first, please, tell us how you performed a miracle.” Ariel gestured toward Carla, whose face began its preview of her scream by contorting into a rotten tomato. “Oh, my God, I’ve jinxed the magic,” Ariel exclaimed, panic in her voice.
But Becca resumed playing, and Carla’s face was restored to its normal pink.
“It was trial and error,” Becca said. “I tried playing Peek-a-Boo. I tried making silly faces. I tried making animal sounds. Thank God I found your guitar.”
“Beautiful solution,” Summit said.
“She doesn’t know how lucky she is to have a private show,” Ariel said. “Or maybe she does, and that’s why she’s quiet.”
There was a pause. “Do you mind if I go lie down for a few minutes?” Ariel asked.
“No problem,” Becca said.
Summit muttered the same request, and soon wife and husband were sleeping again, this time in their own bed.
Becca left two days later, uncertain about when she would be back on the East Coast. While she was in Japan, her record company had undergone a change in ownership, and Becca was hoping the new regime would overrule the departing regime and reinstate her U.S. tour.
Before Becca left, Ariel asked her to record a few songs on a cassette to pacify Carla. Becca obliged with a dozen songs, and it became something Ariel cherished. Unfortunately, it didn’t succeed in pacifying Carla, who only quieted when Ariel strummed the guitar, something she hadn’t done in a long time.
At first, Ariel found her guitar overly large, even clunky, and her fingers too small and plump. Whenever she hit a false note, she looked with worry at Carla, convinced her daughter would burst into tears. But Carla was forgiving, and soon Ariel was playing with a little of her old vigor and singing with a little of her old enthusiasm.
When Carla turned six weeks old, her colic disappeared. “It’s like we’ve signed a peace treaty,” Summit declared. Sometimes Ariel brought out her guitar anyway, but if the music still interested Carla, it didn’t keep her transfixed. As strange as it was to say, Ariel missed Carla’s colic. The good days of it, anyway, when she played her guitar until two in the morning and imagined Carla as an audience of a thousand, begging, pleading (but not screaming, no—no more screaming and crying) for an encore.